Written by Mark Blanckenberg. Mark Blanckenberg is a Director of Aronti Coffee.

In the last fifteen years I have been in the roasting, tasting and marketing of speciality coffees. Over this time, there have been enormous changes within the coffee industry. We have witnessed the proliferation of coffee shops and bars, and have invested enormous time, money and effort into the quest for the perfect cup of coffee. So why then is it so difficult to find a consistently good cup of coffee? What makes the difference between two coffee shops in the same area; one empty and lifeless and the other vibrant and noisy with the energy that is created by great coffee.

To find the perfect cappuccino, americano or latte, you have to look for the perfect espresso shot. And if you want the perfect espresso shot, look for the outlet with a passion for coffee and that is prepared to invest in the new breed of barista.

When it comes to making great espresso (the heart of all espresso based coffees) the barista must have a passion, curiosity and a feel for it. Some baristas will always make consistently better espressos than others even when using the same coffee and equipment. It involves evaluating what looks and feels right; continuously experimenting with different extraction times; different roasts and blends; and different coffee brands and machines.

This new breed of barista is encouraged to understand and explore the art and science of coffee from the evaluation of green coffee beans to the roasting and blending of coffees that are excellent for the creation of the perfect espresso shot. By contrast the barista who stands behind the machine making coffee in only one mechanical way or pushing an automatic button is on another path. This path may work for a large chain, but the barista has no idea of what goes into making the perfect espresso. The result: an ordinary coffee experience at best.

Fortunately, the National Barista Championship is encouraging and developing this new breed of barista. The champions in recent competitions are going the extra mile in searching, experimenting and tasting. I met one such barista champion at a recent professional cupping and roasting seminar. His ability to pull a perfect espresso was astonishing, yet he was still searching for new clues to improve his art.

I am also encouraged by a new breed of coffee shop and hotel operators, and even corporate offices, who are prepared to invest heavily in extensive and broad-based barista training. They are beginning to understand the value of a professional barista and are happy to back it up in increased pay grades. This in turn is inspiring young people to explore a career as a professional barista with an eye to becoming a barista champion.

*Article taken from The Culinary Artist, Issue 1